I’m delighted to report that I sent a happy-new-year greeting to retired Marine General Al Gray, and he responded. He’ll turn 94 this year.
I first met Al Gray when he was a captain in the early 1960s in Vietnam. He was there in command of Marines on the battlefield. I was there as a civilian operating under cover as a soldier or Marine providing intelligence support to U.S. fighting forces. Our paths crossed innumerable times over the years until 1975 when he was a colonel and I was his civilian rank equivalent heading the clandestine NSA operation in South Vietnam. That’s when he saved my life by rescuing me and allowing me to escape under fire as the North Vietnamese seized Saigon.
Over the years following the loss of Vietnam, Al Gray and I stayed in touch and often appeared together as speakers discussing our defeat in Vietnam. And we rose in grade together. He moved up in the general ranks as I rose in the Senior Executive Service. Finally, he bested me. He became a four-star general while I topped out at the three-star equivalent rank. When he was named Commandant of the Marine Corps, I stopped calling him “Al” and addressed him as “sir.”
General Gray is the finest leader I have ever encountered. He invariably had two priorities: the accomplishment of his mission and the welfare of his troops. His men knew he would never ask them to do any job or face any danger he wouldn’t take on himself. His men responded with outstanding performance on and off the battlefield.
The only Marines I have ever met who don’t know who Al Gray is are the very young ones. And it is to esteem Al Gray and his men that I always capitalize “Marine.”
Honoring General Gray sums up my long and happy association with the Marine Corps. May he continue to prosper and may the Corps always be our nation’s most respected fighting force.